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A 1981 robbery and shootout near a New York mall ends with millions of dollars in the wind and two policemen and an armored truck guard dead. The domestic terrorist organization behind the heist struck fear into the country and the repercussions from the robbery still remain a heavy weight for survivors today.

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Episode Transcript

I don’t know about you, but when I think about the words “armed robbery” I think of action movies. Scenes from films like “Heat” or “The Dark Knight,” where criminals and villains are armed-to-the-teeth, caught up in dramatic shootouts with police.

Larger-than-life characters who risk it all for a potentially big reward.

Sometimes that reward comes, sometimes it doesn’t.

Sometimes the good guys catch the bad guys, sometimes they don’t.

In reality, most armored truck robberies are much more subdued than what’s portrayed in films and TV. While epic heists like the ones depicted on the big screen do happen in real life from time to time, they’re nowhere near as common as you might think.

More often than not those kinds of incidents are the exception, as opposed to the rule.

FBI agents we’ve consulted for this show have said that by and large the goal in an armored truck robbery is to get away with the cash without being captured. The quickest way to do that is to avoid drawing any suspicion to yourself or firing a weapon.

For the most part armored truck robbers, especially if it’s an inside job, try as often as possible to choose the path of least resistance and evade capture by outsmarting authorities.

For the past 19 years, that strategy has worked for an unidentified armored truck robber who in 2002 left FBI agents scratching their heads.

The robbery is a rare case that’s puzzling because even if the suspect gets caught they may never be able to be charged with a crime.

This is Armored, the untold stories of murder, mayhem, and million-dollar heists.

Today’s episode takes us to the sleepy town of Rutland, Vermont, where a suspect in an armored car heist made off with nearly $2 million and still remains unaccounted for nearly two decades later.

On the morning of Thursday, January 31st, 2002, things were calm in the Howe Center industrial complex, located just south of downtown Rutland, Vermont.

17,000 people in New England call Rutland home. The city is about three hours northwest of Boston, Massachusetts, and roughly 20 miles away from Vermont’s border with upstate New York.

On that cold January morning, three armored vehicles were parked in front of a nondescript two-story brick building in the back of the industrial park. The complex was fairly spread out and had lots of different businesses, warehouses, and buildings in it. The idling trucks and the brick structure they were in front of could be easy to miss if you weren’t specifically looking for them.

The building was a subtle office depot for the Rutland branch of the Berkshire Armored Car Service, which transported currency throughout the New England area. According to the Rutland Herald, this wasn’t a large office building by any means. The branch acted as more of a transfer station between Berkshire’s other locations in Massachusetts and upstate Vermont.

Inside two layers of secured double doors at the front was a small office, a bathroom, a garage bay, and a vault that was anchored to the ground in concrete.

At 5:30 am two guards arrived at the building to start their shifts and load up their trucks for deliveries. According to the Rutland Herald, as they approached the front door, the guards were ambushed by a man wearing a dark-colored ski mask.

The assailant was carrying a revolver in his right hand and demanded access to the building. According to the Herald’s reporting, he told one of the guards quote — “If you want to live, open the door. Don’t look at me.”– end quote.

Once inside, the gunman forced both guards to the ground and tied them up with handcuffs and zip ties that he brought with him. He then took a 9mm Glock 19 pistol from one of the guard’s holsters and walked both men into the back of the building towards the vault.

Reports aren’t super clear but based on everything in the research material available it appears only one of the guards was actually armed with a service weapon.

The Rutland Herald reported that the suspect separated the two guards near the vault for a short time and forced them to each give up codes to the vault. The paper reported that it was Berkshire’s policy to separate the vault code between the two guards. Each man had a string of numbers that when combined would open the safe. After retrieving the vault code, the suspect took the guards into the small office near the front of the building and secured them so they couldn’t see him.

Reports state that in a matter of minutes he gained access to the safe and started carrying bags of money to a getaway vehicle.

When all was said and done the thief stole more than a dozen bags of US currency, Euros, and British pounds worth a combined total of $1.9 million from the Berkshire branch. He’d also made off with approximately 1000 treasurer’s checks from Chittenden Bank in Brattleboro, Vermont, a town about an hour and a half Northwest of Rutland.

Not long after cleaning out the vault, the guards reported hearing the building’s garage bay door open and the sound of a vehicle starting up and driving off.

The guards worked to free themselves from their restraints and eventually broke free. They immediately called the police and looked outside to see if they could catch a glimpse of their assailant or any tire tracks he’d left behind but there were none.

On the day this happened the average temperature in Rutland was 19 degrees Fahrenheit and snow had been falling all morning. Any footprints or evidence the robber left behind were unfortunately already covered up within minutes.

When local police arrived at the scene they quickly called in regional FBI agents to help work the investigation. Because the money in the vault was federally insured, the case technically was the FBI’s jurisdiction and agents were required to take the lead on it.

When word of the robbery began to spread through New England, people were worried. A masked gunman on the loose with millions of dollars at his disposable was not a comforting thought to residents.

The volume of money the suspect had made off with marked a new FBI record. The heist was labeled the largest robbery in Vermont state history. It surpassed a previous incident from 1996 where a thief stole $250,000 in cash.

One of the first hurdles investigators faced was the fact that the Berkshire building didn’t have cameras on the outside of it. So, agents were unable to view the circumstances that led up to the two guards being ambushed. They also had no way of identifying the suspect’s getaway car.

Because of the lack of video surveillance, they also weren’t sure if the gunman had an accomplice or someone else waiting for him in the car as a lookout during the robbery.

Because so much money had been stolen, the FBI theorized an additional accomplice could have been necessary. If, like the guards had said, the thief loaded up the hefty money bags into a getaway vehicle so quickly, it was highly likely he had help.

The two guards who’d been hostages were only so helpful in the FBI’s investigation. Other than being taken by surprise and getting a general description of the suspect, they’d been unable to see anything he’d done inside the building. They were tied up in the small office for most of the crime.

Still, the guards gave investigators a description of the man who tied them up and did their best to provide as much detail as possible. At the time though, news reports don’t indicate that any description of the assailant was provided to the media or released to the public.

According to the Associated Press and Rutland Herald when agents canvassed the rest of the industrial park for witnesses, everyone else working in the complex said they were completely unaware that a robbery had even taken place until police and the FBI showed up.

Thankfully though, there was one witness who agents believed did actually see something very useful…

A person on their smoke break near the Berkshire Armored Services building at the time of the January 2002 robbery told investigators with the FBI that they recalled seeing a dark-colored van with a light-colored stripe down the side leaving the armored truck office shortly before police and agents showed up.

The Rutland Herald reported that this witness reported seeing two men inside the van– a driver, who had a large head and skinnier person riding in the passenger seat. They couldn’t tell if the passenger was a man or a woman.

This sighting confirmed for investigators that at least two people were involved in the robbery. The witness’s story also gave agents a lead on the type of getaway vehicle that might have been used by the culprits.

Later that morning, information came in from a local cleaning company owner that led investigators to a Dodge Ram van parked on the side of the road in front of a “no parking” sign not far from the Berkshire branch.

The Rutland Herald reported that when investigators looked over the van they noticed that a window on the driver’s side was broken. They brought out dogs to track scents inside and around the van in the hopes of finding a trace of the suspects, but because of the fresh snow on the ground, those efforts failed.

According to a Rutland Police Detective who spoke with reporters, he said the van’s true owner had reported the vehicle missing earlier that morning. When agents spoke with people living nearby, they said that they’d noticed that the van had just shown up earlier that morning but hadn’t seen a driver or any passengers get out of it.

FBI technicians impounded and examined the van more closely and uncovered a partial palm print inside. Investigators compared that print to the van’s owner and all of the employees working for the cleaning company and determined it did not belong to any of them. So, the FBI assumed that it more than likely belonged to the robber.

This partial palm print was the only thing that investigators had in terms of hard evidence in the case. Whoever was behind the robbery had covered their tracks pretty well and on top of that had the weather on their side to help conceal their whereabouts.

In the days after the robbery, investigators continued to search for the missing money, as well as the Berkshire guard’s missing Glock pistol but nothing turned up.

An FBI agent named John Kavanagh oversaw the investigation early on and he told reporters that he believed the suspects had to be from the area.

He said because the Berkshire branch office wasn’t very noticeable, the perpetrators had to be familiar with the industrial park to know where it was and when the armored truck guards would be checking in to load up their trucks. He told the Rutland Herald that unless you worked in that industrial complex, the odds were incredibly low that you knew the armored truck office location was even there.

The FBI returned to the scene of the crime a week after the robbery and began interviewing locals who drove through the industrial park and surrounding streets regularly. They wanted to find someone who’d been driving their normal route at the time of the robbery to see if they’d seen anything different.

The feds cast a wide net for tips and information, even bringing back the Dodge Ram van and parking it across the street from the Berkshire office building.  They hoped the sight would rustle up people in the area’s memories and lead to new clues but it didn’t.

The authorities’ next move was to try and track large cash deposits being made in local area banks. The FBI sent out alerts to banks throughout the New England region to be on the lookout for cash deposits in large increments and to red flag any treasurer’s checks from Chittenden Bank.

Berkshire Armored Car Services offered up a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible and the return of the money. The FBI upped the ante and boosted the total reward to $70,000 with a donation of their own.

But still, this was not enough incentive to move the needle in the investigation. Within a week, the investigation was at a complete standstill.

Over time, federal investigators made the tactful decision to slowly release information about the only known offender they could prove existed in the case: the lone gunman who’d tied up the two guards…

According to an FBI statement released weeks after the robbery, the suspect was medium build, stood five feet 10 inches tall, spoke with a “distinct nasally New York accent” and weighed between 160 and 175 pounds.

During the robbery, he was said to have been wearing a bulky, dark-colored jacket.

In that same statement, the FBI announced that they believed he drove the stolen Dodge Van that they’d seized. They didn’t have any concrete proof to back that up though.

The lack of clues and near-perfect execution of the crime strongly indicated to investigators that the job was done by a professional.

The Rutland Herald reported that the FBI began looking into a theory that the robbery was somehow connected to organized crime groups in the northeast United States… in particular, a group of criminals known as YACS (or YAKS). That was a name given to a group of different crime syndicates who were loosely associated and were made up of predominantly Eastern European immigrants and descendants. The YACS were suspected of operating mostly in New York City but had slowly expanded outward, towards outlying states like Massachusetts and Vermont during the late 1990s.

In 2002, the FBI had started cracking down on this group and believed they were responsible for numerous crimes in the tristate area over a span of a decade or so.

In 2003, a year after the Berkshire robbery, a suspected spinoff group of the YACS, known as The Pink Panthers, began carrying out a string of robberies in various cities and countries across the globe.

They tended to target high-value takes like jewelry, fine art, precious stones, and cold hard cash. This group’s suspected crimes occurred in countries like Japan, England, Denmark, Monaco, France, Switzerland, and the United Arab Emirates. Some of their robberies were described as being so intricate and perfectly executed that authors and criminologists have called their methods “art.”

Unfortunately in 2002, tales of a tribe of globetrotting thieves weren’t going to help FBI agents solve the Rutland, Vermont armored truck robbery case.

Investigators had been unable to recover evidence that definitively tied the robbery to any sort of organized crime ring. If one of the groups had planned and carried out the daring heist, they had kept details to themselves and silenced anyone who was involved or benefitted from it.

Another dominant theory in the first few weeks of the investigation was that the robbery could have been an inside job. Investigators believed that if the robbery wasn’t orchestrated directly by someone who’d been working for Berkshire Armored Car Services, then it was possible the heist could have been coordinated by someone who had worked there in the past. Someone who knew the layout of the building and who was familiar with Howe Center industrial complex.

Reporting by the Rutland Herald in February of 2002 supported this theory. The publication interviewed Todd Lemieux, the owner of Lemieux Security Services Inc in Vermont and he said quote—“Whoever did this must have known something. Being a betting man, I’d say they must have known the routine. I don’t know anyone who would want to go into a place guarded by two guys with guns on the off chance that there might be only $2,000 inside.”– end quote.

In the same article, Lemieux said that most armored security branch offices have contingency plans for robberies like this.

He said a lot of armored truck facilities have holding cells between interior and exterior doors and several layers of locked doors to prevent offenders from getting in or out without having the required keys.

In 2002, the Berkshire building did have two layers of secured doors, and it was almost as if the gunman knew that would be the case. That may have been why he ambushed the guards before they entered the building because he knew they would have the required keys to both sets of doors on them.

Also, according to reports, he was able to somehow circumvent the Berkshire office’s security system and gain access to the vault within a matter of minutes.

There was also one more fact that investigators learned that really made them consider an inside job scenario.

And it had to do less to do with how the suspect got into the building and more to do with the day of the week he picked to commit the crime.

On Thursday, January 31st, 2002, there was more cash than usual in the Berkshire Armored Car Service building.

The day before the robbery – January 30th – one of the company’s armored trucks that delivered to the Rutland location had delivered $1.2 million from Burlington, Vermont and another truck had delivered approximately $700,000.

The authorities did not think that amount of currency being in the same place on the same day coinciding with a random robbery was a coincidence.

The FBI believed that whoever had carried out the crime knew the inner workings and schedule of the Berkshire office. In particular, the suspect or suspects had to have known that the building’s vault was going to be holding an unusually large amount of cash on the morning of the robbery.

How much currency was going to be in that vault on that particular day was not something that just anyone in the public could have known.

According to the Rutland Herald, the Rutland branch of Berkshire Armored Car Service had only started holding large amounts of cash six months prior to the robbery.

It was reported that only a handful of deliveries in the weeks leading up to January 31st had been hauling contents worth millions of dollars.

The Berkshire company told investigators that it was very suspicious to them that the thief had conducted the robbery on a Thursday morning.

Typically, cash transfers out of the Rutland facility took place on Thursdays. So if the thief had hit the building on Wednesday the money wouldn’t have arrived yet and if they had robbed it on Friday morning the money would have been gone. Thursday morning was the precise day and time that the cash was there and vulnerable.

It was later reported by the Rutland Herald that the two guards who’d survived the ordeal mentioned to investigators that the gunman voiced concern about the building’s early warning system being set off right after he ambushed them… In fact, according to the guards’ testimonies, the suspect threatened to kill them if the police were notified by the silent alarm system in the building. The Berkshire company confirmed to police that the facility was equipped with an early alarm system in the event of a robbery.

Lastly, it’s assumed that the sound of the building’s garage door going up that the guards heard while tied up in the front office was exactly that the bay door rolling up.

At the time, the switch to that door was reported as being well-hidden somewhere in the building. So, investigators begged the question: how did the suspect know where the switch was in order to open the door if he didn’t have some kind of knowledge about the inside of the building?

Authorities started to become convinced that the information that would’ve been required to do the robbery in this way just seemed too perfect for a random person to pull off.

While mulling over the inside job scenario, the FBI couldn’t help but look back at a similar crime that had taken place in West Springfield, Massachusetts in 1997. In that crime, a guard for Berkshire Armored Services had tipped off his friends about a large shipment of cash being received at the cash depot he worked at. The crew orchestrated a robbery and ended up making off with a similar amount of money.

According to the Rutland Herald, investigators were able to narrow in on those individuals not long after the heist and ended up convicting them all, including the guard that had tipped off his buddies.

With the 2002 robbery though, news outlets reported that police and the FBI thoroughly investigated all of the current and former Berkshire employees and their associates who would have had access to or knowledge about the Rutland office and everyone came back clean.

Agents also doggedly interviewed employees of other businesses in the Howe Center industrial complex, but never found a connection to anyone. Branch Walton, the president of the National Association for Bank Security, spoke to reporters with the Rutland Herald in 2005 about the case.

He hinted to the notion of inside connection to the robbery as well saying quote—“Many times there is a relationship to an insider. They know the who, what, when and where. They know how the security is implemented and how much money is kept there.”– end quote.

In the same article, Walton stated that the thief would have more than likely attempted on several occasions to spend the money after having gotten away with it for so long. He said that move would probably end up being the thing that exposed the culprit but here we are 19 years later and that is clearly not the case.

Local newspapers reported that the Berkshire Armored Car Service office in Rutland closed by the end of 2004. After that, the building housed an autobody shop for a decade and then that business also ended up closing.

The federal statute of limitations for armed robbery expired in this case in February 2007, exactly five years after the crime.

The state statute of limitation in Vermont for armed robbery expired two years after that, in 2009.

For that reason, the culprit or culprits involved in this crime can no longer face charges for the armed robbery they carried out in the early morning hours of January 31st, 2002. However, that does not mean that they have gotten away scot-free.

Whoever carried out this crime can still face charges for tax evasion, the same type of charges that put infamous gangster Al Capone behind bars nearly a century ago.

According to reporting by the Rutland Herald, the statute of limitations for many federal tax crimes resets every Spring, so should this offender ever be identified, they could still end up serving time behind bars for not paying taxes on their wealth.

That seems kind of wild, but according to the sources we researched for this episode, that is a possibility. But seeing someone prosecuted for tax evasion, in this case, is really dependent on the type of case that prosecutors would even be able to build against a suspected offender.

In 2013, eleven years after the robbery, the FBI announced that this case is essentially closed. The bureau admitted that investigators had struggled to maintain any kind of long-term momentum and failed to drum up significant leads.

In 2002,  the FBI had stretched its resources thin trying to combat terrorism in the wake of September 11th and crimes like an armored truck robbery in Rutland, Vermont, which involved little violence, sort of fell by the wayside.

Local newspapers in Vermont reported that the case is still technically considered “open” with the local police in Rutland…but it remains unsolved and unless authorities receive any kind of substantial tip they are unlikely to make this a high priority for their department.

This story of what happened on that snowy morning in January 2002 is remembered well by those who lived in the area at the time. Mostly because of the robbery’s subdued nature and the fact that the offender insisted on quietly carrying out this crime without violence.

Whoever made off with nearly $2 million in three different types of currency, may be the smartest and most efficient villain in Vermont history.

Armored is an audiochuck original.

Hosted by Jake Brennan.

Research and writing by Micheal Whelan with writing assistance from executive producer Delia D’Ambra.

Editing by Eric Aaron.

So what do you think Chuck, do you approve? *howl*